Facing Reality

"Shelly VanBinsbergen is from Saskatoon Canada, She is a Friend of Hands at Work and occasionally comes and visits and gets involved with the work. Last year Shelly VanBinsbergen took a team from her church to Mulenga, Zambia; she became friends with some of the Care Workers there and continues to have a close relationship with them. This is her reflection, after hearing news from her friends in Zambia”

This week I have been thinking about Zambia, a lot. I spent last week with some very good friends and it reminded me how there are places in one's life that can't be filled with anything but deep relationships.

I realized that although I was only in Zambia for a short time, some of those relationships have filled some pretty deep holes in my life. When I arrived in Zambia, it felt like a homecoming of sorts. I've mentioned before that I had no real reason to go other than to just go and experience something new. When I arrived in Zambia, I had a moment where it all came together and I was in the right place at the right time.

As I think about returning to Zambia, whatever that looks like, I have wondered what it would be like. I know that even when Jason went, his experience was entirely different and yet had some common threads as well. I know that when I go back, it will be different and the reality of that hit home this week.

One of the things about working in the village in Zambia that struck me every time we went there, was how significant a role death played in the everyday lives of those I met.

I visited homes where children lived alone as a result of losing their parents. There were those I met, like a young mother with two small girls clinging to her skirts, who had just tested positive for HIV and was reeling from the news. Her eldest daughter was maybe seven and you could tell by the fear in her face that she knew what this could mean for her and her little sister.

There was a home visit in which a young man was clearly in his last days and facing it with a quiet dignity and strength that amazes me still.

The volunteer care workers who visit and care for those who are sick and dying are not immune to the very same fate that those they care for are facing. In fact, some days, I was literally moved to tears to see volunteers arrive at the schoolhouse to meet and disperse for the day while they themselves were in a lot of pain, physically and emotionally, from the toll that living with illness can take. There's no hope of hospice care to spend your last days and sometimes I am immobilized when I think of the very lack of comfortable surroundings that those who are facing their worst days must endure.

While waiting on the tarmac to board our plane at the airport, a few of us were wondering out loud what we would find when we returned, if we ever were able. It was clearly on our minds that there would be deaths and some of those we met and worked with would be counted among those gone.

This week, that became a reality with the news that Josephine, one of the volunteers with Breakthrough Home Based Care, passed away. Josephine worked when she was very ill, she continued to share the peace and love she had found with others who were in the same situation she was in - facing death and separation from loved ones, with no assurances of what it would mean to those they were leaving behind. There are photos of Josephine working in the community garden even in recent months and photos of her embracing team members and other volunteers. These photos give a glimpse of who this beautiful woman was - strong, steadfast and loving.

Josephine brought a lot of comfort and peace to those around her as she served others in her community. She served when it cost her a great deal, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I hope that as I remember her in days to come, I can emulate her ability to serve through her discomfort, even in the midst of my comfortable life.

"Well done, good and faithful servant"